Will the Lightning sign any of their college prospects

It’s college signing season

As the hockey season starts winding down for colleges and universities in the United Stats, more and more collegiate draft picks will be leaving their amateur status behind as they start signing professional contracts. The Chicago Blackhawks just signed Wyatt Kaiser and Ryan Rolston (son of Brian - who, for those that remember, was briefly a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008 when they traded a 4th Round pick for his rights, but didn’t sign him.) On Wednesday, the Montreal Canadiens signed Jayden Struble. The Lightning have a few prospects currently playing in NCAA system, will they sign any of them this spring?

NHL teams have until mid-August following a player’s final year in college to sign them or they forfeit their draft rights.  Lightning fans may remember last summer when Sammy Walker and Cole Guttman both became free agents after Tampa Bay failed to sign them following their collegiate careers. Walker was signed by the Minnesota Wild and Guttman signed with Chicago. Both made it into the NHL with their respective teams this season, something that would have been unlikely this season with the Bolts.

The run of signings began in earnest this week as collegiate conferences entered their conference tournaments and losing teams have seen their season’s end. The Division 1 national championship still looms with the NCAA set on Sunday to choose the 16 teams that will compete for the honor of being the best men’s collegiate hockey team in the country. The trophy will be awarded on April 8th at Amalie Arena as Tampa will be hosting the Frozen Four this year. Get your tickets here!

Players and teams have a couple of options when they sign their first professional contracts. Some will sign and head straight to the NHL (Kaiser appears to be taking that option). It effectively “burns” the first year of the contract since they jump right into the pros. Others will sign the contract, but slide it to the next season. In that case they will often sign an Amateur Try-out Contract with the club’s AHL affiliate, something that Nick Perbix did after wrapping up his playing days with St. Cloud State last season.

According to Elite Prospects, the Tampa Bay Lightning currently have nine players playing in the NCAA system. Based on when they were drafted, and assuming they don’t leave college early, Cap Friendly has listed the date by which the team needs to sign them or lose their rights. As of right now, there is only one player, Max Crozier, whose rights expire this summer, so the question is if any of the players will decide to leave before their expected graduation date and sign early.

Need to sign this spring/summer:

Max Crozier (D) - Providence College

Sign by date - August 15, 2023

The 22-year-old defenseman was drafted by the Lightning in the 4th round of the 2019 draft prior to him entering Providence College. He spent 4 years with the Friars, playing in 118 games with 17 goals and 54 assists. As of Wednesday, Crozier was still playing hockey as Providence defeated the University of New Hampshire (and fellow draft pick Alex Gagne) in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament. Crozier had an assist on the opening goal in the 2-1 overtime win.

With the Lightning defensive organizational depth not at its deepest, Crozier could likely step in and see some playing time with the Crunch this season. It’s unlikely that he would have the impact that Perbix had last season as he stepped into the top four almost immediately. If he does sign, Crozier would likely rotate in for a few games as Syracuse fights for a spot in the playoffs, but would be in contention for a spot next season.

May leave school early:

Eamon Powell (D) - Boston College

Sign by date - August 15, 2024

Drafted in the 4th round of the 2020, Powell has a little time to make his decision, but with three seasons already under his belt at Boston College, and that aforementioned lack of depth in the system, he may make the jump early. Despite a bit of a slump before last season, he did make it to the 18th spot in our annual Top 25 Under 25, and should move up after posting a career-high 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists). Powell also scored in the Eagles opening-round win over UMass.

If he feels his skating has improved to a level where he won’t get dusted in the AHL against bigger players (he’s listed at 5’11”, 165 pounds), he may choose to make the jump this summer.

McKade Webster (F) - University of Denver

Sign by date - August 15. 2024

Webster is currently playing for a stacked University of Denver team (12 players have been drafted) and is looking for his second consecutive national championship. How nice would it be for him to raise the trophy on the Lightning’s home ice?

A 6 goal, 8 assist season wasn’t what he envisioned for this year, but with the talent the Pioneers have on the ice, playing time is at a premium. He’s a solidly build forward with decent skating that projects as a defense-first forward.

Don’t turn in your dining hall cards just yet:

Isaac Howard (LW) - University of Minnesota-Duluth

Sign by date - August 15, 2026

Robert/Cooper Flinton (LW) - Dartmouth College

Sign by date - August 15, 2026

Alex Gagne (D) - University of New Hampshire

Sign by date - August 15, 2026

Connor Kurth (F) - University of Minnesota

Sign by date - August 15, 2026

All drafted over the last two summers, these four are unlikely to bounce this early in their collegiate careers. Howard’s name will always generate interest as he the rarest of unicorns, a Lightning 1st round pick still in the organization, but after a slow start to his UMD career, he finished strong and ended the season with 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists) in 35 games. With that experience under his belt, and another offseason of training, expect him to have a bigger role for the Bulldogs next year.

Dylan Duke (C) - University of Michigan

Sign by date - August 15, 2025

Nick Capone (RW) - University of Connecticut

Sign by date - August 15, 2024

Howard, could see Duke’s career as a path for his development. After an okay freshman year, Duke played a bigger role in the Wolverine’s season this year as he posted 16 goals in 37 games. He should take another step next season and be one of the leaders at a top program in the NCAA.

There is a chance that Capone decides three years are enough at UConn, and decides to leave the program, but a little more seasoning is likely for the 6’2” forward. He has increased his goal totals each season starting with 1 as a freshman, 4 as a sophomore, and 9 as a junior.